I feel like I rarely see faces anymore. Every day, I'm surrounded by people on the subway, in the street or riding the elevator with their heads down and eyes glued to their smartphones. Although I do my best to keep my phone use to a minimum when I'm having a face-to-face conversation (people still do that?), I utilize this distraction when I want to avoid making eye contact with strange men on the subway or reduce the awkwardness of standing in a confined shaft with strangers while riding up 25 flights. I have felt the urge, especially this summer, to try to keep up with the tech craze.
After attending a technology focus group at AOL, I began to consider the growing number of different social networks I use on a daily basis: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, foursquare, and now Google+.
Although I enjoy passing the time on my morning commute by reading funny tweets or browsing through my friends' new photos, I'm starting to feel overwhelmed by the pressure of maintaining my online identities across multiple platforms. I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and share photos, I use LinkedIn to build my professional network, I use Twitter to share articles and random thoughts, and the list goes on and on. I often find myself wondering where I should post something -- is this more fitting for Facebook, Twitter or maybe both? How do I want to be perceived by the people in each of my networks or potential employers searching for me online?
In the spirit of attempting to create efficiency, we have created more tasks for ourselves. I feel pressure to post updates and share information all day long. I joke with my friends, who are equally addicted, because as soon as we walk in the door, we immediately whip out our phones to "check-in" on foursquare or tweet about how excited we are to be at some trendy restaurant. I used to be creeped out by constant information-sharing and was reluctant to join foursquare because I simply didn't want people to know where I was all the time -- it didn't take me too long to cave in.
In our quest to connect and more quickly share information, our relaxation has been cheapened and we have fewer privacy restrictions. When I am bombarded by fifty unread emails from people demanding a response "ASAP," I wish there wasn't such an easy way to contact me. Sometimes I imagine turning off my cell phone for a day and not worrying that I am missing out on some spontaneous adventure or that someone is trying to contact me about an emergency. Regardless of its downsides, technology has enabled us to enjoy immediate gratification at our fingertips: I can search for the answer to any question by typing a few terms in Google or disseminate critical business information to thousands of people in the time that it would take to pick up the phone and have a conversation with one person. Although I quibble with my technology-resistant father about this issue, I always stress that the incredible versatility of technology outweighs the smaller disadvantages.
As a person who is always "connected," I freak out when I realize I don't have service, such as when I'm hanging out on the beach. I'm comforted, however, when I pick up service later and find that I only have one less-than-urgent text message requesting my response. In situations like these, I try to laugh at myself. Like many people, I have placed an artificial importance on incessant information. I might be dangerously immersed in the tech craze but I find peace of mind knowing that I can be disconnected from my e-mail and social networks for a couple days and I won't flunk out of school or lose any friends. While we should embrace progress, we must keep our eyes open to its consequences.